SIKESTON -- In just three days, Black Friday will mark the unofficial start of the holiday shopping rush. For the next month, shoppers will be in full force looking for gifts, as well as doing their regular shopping.
And there will also be some grinches out, looking to take money or items from other shoppers.
"Most of our crimes like that pick up around the holidays," said Sgt. Jim McMillen, public information officer for the Sikeston Department of Public Safety. "People get a little more desperate to make ends meet."
But there are things that shoppers can do to make them less of a target.
One is to just pay attention -- McMillen said thefts will usually happen when shoppers are distracted.
"They get your property when you're not looking," he said.
A typical scenario occurs when someone leaves a purse unattended in the cart.
"If you've got your purse, I'd hang on to it, because somebody's going to take it," McMillen said. "And keep your purse close to your body, don't just let it dangle."
Since a purse is just one extra thing to hold on to, some shoppers just pocket their credit card, noted Nicole Gardner, manager at Vanity Fair.
That's fine, she said, but shoppers need to keep a picture ID on them at all times. "This is the time of year for stealing, so more stores are going to be checking IDs," she said, noting that VF checks IDs with every purchase, regardless of the time of year.
If someone does leave their purse in the vehicle, it needs to be in the trunk or hidden somewhere, McMillen said.
"Your window could get busted out and your purse stolen," he said.
"Carry a blanket in your car so you can cover up your packages," advised Laurie Romas, mall manager at the Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores. "But if you can put them all in your trunk, that's even better."
Since Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores is an outdoor mall, Gardner actually recommended customers take packages to their vehicles before entering another store.
"That's much less they have to keep up with," she said.
Children can also be a distraction if shoppers take them along. "I think that if you can find someone to watch your kids, especially on a high-profile day such as Black Friday, it would be advisable," McMillen said. "The kids are what you worry about first, and next thing you know, your purse is gone."
There are precautions to take in a parking lot, too.
Once again, McMillen urged shoppers to pay attention and not get in a rush. He also advised drivers to have their keys out before leaving the store, shop with a friend, try to avoid shopping late at night and be sure to lock the car when turning or returning the cart.
Just recently, a shopper turned around for a moment and some of her groceries were stolen, McMillen recalled. In another instance, one of his friend's mothers was distracted by someone while she put her cart in the return, and a partner took the items from her car.
Some stores try to stop theft through employee training, too.
"Our main thing with the employees is that customer service is the best shoplifting deterrent," Gardner said.
At Vanity Fair, employees have a tip sheet of things to do, such as never turn their back on customers, keep an eye on those loitering and wandering around the store, and keeping the store and departments attended at all times.
Stores often have extra staff on hand, and law enforcement has a bigger presence during the holiday shopping season, said McMillen.
Romas agreed. "The Scott County Sheriff's Department Satellite office has been here this year, which has been a tremendous help," she said. "The response time is just a few minutes -- from them and Miner."